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Testing & Processing Cannabinoid analysis, Adverse effects, Medical research

Cannabis Pregnancy Warning

With more countries legalizing cannabis, increasing numbers of people are using the drug to self-medicate, including managing aching and headaches during pregnancy. The trend has inspired a research team at São Paulo State University, Brazil, to study the health effects in newborns of cannabis use during pregnancy (1).

According to the researchers, there is a lack of concrete data in this area, despite the increase in the number of pregnant women using cannabis. Having conducted previous studies on the development of respiratory conditions in newborns, the research team believed they were well placed to gain a better understanding of how cannabis affects babies within the womb.

Testing aminoalkylindole derivative synthetic compounds (WIN 55) in pregnant rats, the researchers noted an increase in newborn mortality and respiratory problems. Male offspring showed greater changes and susceptibility than their female counterparts. A greater sensitivity to CO2 was present in the first three weeks of life in male offspring – which was associated with an increase in the expression of cannabinoid receptors 1 and the quantification of catecholaminergic neurons in the brainstem. There was also an additional reduction of mitochondrial efficiency in the brainstem up to day 12 of life and decreased lung compliance in juvenile animals. Female rats showed an increase in apnea events in the first day of life and a reduction of expression serotonergic neurons in the raphe nucleus in the brainstem. 

The study’s main takeaway is that WIN administration during pregnancy can have sex-specific effects on the breathing regulation and respiratory system of the offspring.

“The findings of this study may be a predisposing factor of the occurrence of panic syndrome in the case of increased CO2 sensitivity shown in male puppies, and sudden infant death syndrome in females considering increases in apnea events,” says Luis Patrone, PhD student at São Paulo State University and the study’s lead author. “We should utilize this knowledge and ensure that a note of caution is taken while consuming cannabinoid-based compounds during pregnancy.”

Further research is planned to better understand the susceptibility difference of male and female rats – with additional exploration of the changes in the respiratory nuclei.

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  1. L Patrone et al., Sex- and age-specific respiratory alterations induced by prenatal exposure to the cannabinoid receptor agonist WIN 55,212-2 in rats (2023). DOI: 10.1111/bph.16044.
About the Author
Jessica Allerton

Associate Editor, The Analytical Scientist

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